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A familiar finish

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany — Abby Wambach sure knows how to deliver.

A goal, a promise and soon, she hopes, a World Cup title.

The former Florida standout broke a tie with her header off a corner kick in the 79th minute Wednesday. Alex Morgan scored three minutes later to seal a 3-1 semifinal victory over France.

Next up, Sunday's final that will be the first for Americans since 1999, when they last won it all. They will play Japan, which upset Sweden 3-1.

"We've achieved part of our goal. We're in the final," Wambach said. "We want to complete it."

So do their fans, new and old.

Celebrities, pro athletes and ordinary folks who didn't know a free kick from a corner kick just a few days ago flooded Twitter with congratulations.

"My heroes. Wambach. Boxx. Rapinoe. Solo. That TEAM! Our team!" actor Tom Hanks tweeted.

Tweeted Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers: "Awesome job US Women, finish it off Sunday now."

Wambach and company were glad to share the moment.

"These wins, we can't do it alone. We know a whole nation is cheering us on," she said. "We believe in ourselves, and I couldn't be happier."

A little relieved, too.

"We didn't play well," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "However, we find a way to win, and that's a credit to the players' hearts."

France had exceeded expectations by reaching the semifinals. And for much of Wednesday, the Americans couldn't contain it.

The United States took a 1-0 lead on Lauren Cheney's goal in the ninth minute. But led by midfielder Louisa Necib, France dominated most of the game, finishing with a 25-11 shot advantage. It missed two great chances in the first half, goalkeeper Hope Solo tipping a Gaetane Thiney shot away in the 30th minute and Sonia Bompastor hitting the crossbar two minutes later.

It finally tied it in the 55th.

But in the 79th, the Americans won a corner kick.

"I told (Lauren Cheney) at halftime, 'Put the ball to the back post, and we're going to get a goal,' " Wambach said.

Cheney delivered the ball to the far post and, just as Wambach predicted, she soared over the scrum and headed the ball past Berangere Sapowicz for her third goal of the tournament. "I knew Abby was going to beat (the defender)," Cheney said.

Asked how, Cheney said, "Because she's Abby Wambach."

Morgan put the game out of reach, outracing four defenders and stutter-stepping in front of the goal, throwing Sapowicz off and leaving her with an open net.

Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and company got the rock-star treatment during the '99 World Cup, and every team since then has lived in their shadow. Part of the problem is no team has been able to duplicate their success. But nobody has been able to captivate the U.S. public like that golden group, either.

Until now.

"Nothing to take away from them because what they did was special. What they did gave us the opportunities all of us have here," Wambach said. "This generation is cool because we want to make a name for ourselves. We want the next generation to be ours."

Japan 3, Sweden 1: Homare Sawa, whose giveaway led to an early goal, redeemed herself by scoring the go-ahead goal in Frankfurt. Nahomi Kawasumi, who had played just 29 minutes in the tournament, added two goals for Japan, which is in the final for the first time.

Semifinal Championship Semifinal
France 1 Sweden 1
Wednesday Wednesday
United States
2:45 p.m. Sunday, Frankfurt, Germany; ESPN
Japan
United States 3 Third place: 11:30 a.m. Saturday; ESPN2 Japan 3

U.S. 3

France 1

A familiar finish 07/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 1:13am]
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